Washington Cabernet Franc Tasting

By Kori ~ April 20th, 2009.

Fielding Hills Cabernet FrancCabernet Franc is generally thought of as the quiet little brother of Cabernet Sauvignon. Some people even refer to it as the “other” Cabernet. However, Cabernet Franc is actually one of the genealogical parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. Originating in Bordeaux, France, Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Well-known as a blending grape and often used in Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends, Cabernet Franc also has attracted a cult-like following for its single varietal wines. It has a similar flavor profile to Cabernet Sauvignon but has less tannins, is lighter in color, and tends to be more peppery. The Loire Valley of France is known for its Cabernet Franc based wines including those of Chinon and Bourgueil. In recent years, more wineries in the United States are producing single varietal Cabernet Franc. The weather in the state of Washington seems to be perfectly suited to do Cabernet Franc well. In fact, last year Seattle Magazine selected Cabernet Franc as the Best Emerging Varietal in their 2008 Best of Washington Wine Awards.

“Traditionally known as a blending grape, Cabernet Franc, when grown in Washington—where long warm days allow it to ripen fully—approaches perfection when made into single varietal wines.” –Seattle Magazine

Recently, we had the pleasure of attending a blind tasting at our friends’ house that featured 19 Cabernet Francs from Washington. That’s right, 19! When we mentioned this to a winemaker the other day who makes a Cab Franc himself, he said, “Wow! I didn’t know there were that many being made in Washington. You must have tried them all.” While in reality there are more than 19 wineries making a single varietal Cabernet Franc these days, this was a very comprehensive sampling of what the state can do with this grape.

The overwhelming consensus favorite was the 2005 Fielding Hills Cabernet Franc. What can I say other than Mike Wade of Fielding Hills has done it again. It continues to amaze me the quality that he is able to achieve across varietals and across vintages. If you have not yet tried any Fielding Hills wines, you definitely need to seek them out.

The wine that received the second-most first place votes was the 2005 Willow Crest Cabernet Franc. With its $16 price tag, it was the only wine in this tasting to have a QPR of 5 bangs for your buck. Willow Crest Winery, located in Prosser, Washington, was founded in 1995 by David Minick. Minick oversees the Willow Crest Estate Vineyard where his family has grown wine grapes since 1982. Much of their fruit is sold to other wineries but Minick retains a small amount of his harvest to produce his own wines under the Willow Crest label, approximately 3,000 cases per year.

Here’s a breakdown of the wines that we tasted. Under each Quality heading, the wine name and region will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2005 Willow Crest Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $16, QPR: 5
2005 Fielding Hills Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $30, QPR: 4
2005 Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $36, QPR: 3

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Cadence Coda, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 3
2005 Barrister Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $27, QPR: 3
2006 Nefarious Cellars Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $28, QPR: 3
2005 O*S Winery Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Horse Heaven Hills, $30, QPR: 3
2004 JLC Perpetuation “The Hamilton” Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $NA, QPR: NA

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2005 Bonair Cabernet Franc, Rattlesnake Hills, $15, QPR: 4
2004 Chinook Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $20, QPR: 3
2006 Cuillin Hills Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $28, QPR: 2
2005 Camaraderie Cellars Cabernet Franc, Washington State, $28, QPR: 2
2005 Beresan Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $29, QPR: 2
2004 Di Stefano Sogno Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $32, QPR: 1
2005 Columbia Crest Beverly Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 1

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 Isenhower Road Less Traveled Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $24, QPR: NR
2005 Owen Roe Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $42, QPR: NR

Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
2003 Maryhill Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: NR
2003 Matthews Conner Lee Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $110, QPR: NR

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Franc, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Red Wine, Washington State Wine, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Sean Sullivan | April 20th, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Kori, you’ve probably already seen this but thought I would put a note up in case your readers haven’t. Wine Press NW did an article in the Spring issue on the “other Bordeaux grapes” and looked at 45 Cabernet Francs, 27 Malbecs, 13 Petit Verdots and 3 Carménères. Lots of interesting wines in there. Unfortunately many can be somewhat hard to find outside of the wineries. The complete article can be found here: http://www.winepressnw.com/spring09/story/2661.html

  2. Bernard Gehret | April 20th, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Kermit Lynch discusses blind tastings, and how he feels it’s impossible to really determine quality during a blind tasting because only the biggest, overextracting, powerful wines will stand out. I’m sure that may happen, especially during a Cabernet Franc tasting. How do you account for only the “big” wines scoring well?

  3. Kori | April 21st, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Yes, I did see that article. Thanks for sharing the link.

    We here at Wine Peeps are strong believers in blind tastings. Please refer to our How We Taste page for more information. Regarding this tasting in particular, I don’t believe it was the “big” wines that stood out. It was the better balanced wines.